Over many years’ musicians, artists and filmmakers have attempted to address the issue of the agony and the ecstasy that comes with drug addiction. Nick Ryan’s new film The Summit delves into similar contradictions that lurk below the surface of those who get their adrenaline kicks from serious mountaineering.
It is to Ryan’s credit that early on in the film he chooses to reveal the disastrous events, where egos, lack of preparation, freak weather and just some damn plain bad luck led to the worst single accident in the history of K2 mountaineering.
Archive, home movies, interviews and reconstructions are skilfully blended together to tell how, in 2008, eleven mountaineers from international expeditions died on K2, the second-highest mountain on earth.
As Walter Bonatti, veteran of the 1954 K2 expedition explains: “Everyone thinks that coming down is the easy bit, it makes sense but don’t believe it for one minute.” When you consider that one out of every four people to reach the summit have died on the way down, one realizes the risks that these adventurers are willing to take in search of a challenge.
“This is serious, this is for real, make one step wrong and you are history” Fredrik Strang, Mountaineer
Did this desire to push oneself to the limit of endurance cross the limit to descend into recklessness, and perhaps reveal a lack of respect for the lives of our fellow human beings? There is something very dark at the center of this film, not only with regards to the disaster but also about human nature and what we will do to survive. The idea that such a strong will and a driven sense of purpose can lead into selfishness, and perhaps an element of madness, is continuously hinted at.
There are heroes in this film but the lines between heroism and self-preservation are constantly blurred, cleverly leaving the viewer to unravel the events and make up their own minds as to what exactly happened on that fateful day.
Ryan conjures a strong sense of foreboding than runs throughout the film but it is also contradicted by stunning photography of the majestic, dare one say it heavenly landscape that is the top of the world.
For this reviewer, whose idea of mountaineering is a broken lift, one could grasp what drove men and women to risk such levels of endurance for a peak at such wonder.
The Summit is a hugely gripping film about a series of events that culminated in a terrible disaster. Not all the questions are answered but the film is no less compelling for that. As a study of what drives people to push themselves to the limit and the possible consequences of that desire makes for fascinating viewing.
There is a beautiful monster at the heart of The Summit and its name is K2.
The Summit will be screening at Sheffield Doc/Fest on 13 June at 9pm at the Odeon cinema.
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